Your biggest stumbling block to personal transformation might be fear—and that fear might be hidden in your unconscious.

Even if you are able to look boldly at your story of who you are, what happened to you, and how you came to be where you are now, even if you’re sure you want to make changes in your life, fear might be stopping you.

Learning about your hidden fears can help.

Most of us are very uncomfortable with transformation because it always involves uncertainty and unfamiliarity. We can fear being shunned by our families and our friends if we make different choices and take on new roles. For example, a woman I know discovered that it wasn’t insecurity about being competent that was holding her back from getting some training for a new career. She was afraid that her parents and extended family would think she was foolish to pursue a path quite different from the one her parents envisioned for her. Her fear had been causing her to procrastinate. Once she recognized the hidden fear that was holding her back, she felt more free to return to school and pursue her dream career despite what her family might think. 

Sometimes, our fears are irrational: We would be risking very little to make the change or changes we say we desire. Yet our fears can be so powerful that we can become stuck in our stories about what we’re experiencing and why.

Our stories may not even be ones we consciously wrote for ourselves. The woman who was afraid of what her parents might think of her new career realized that if they disapproved of her goal, as she suspected they might, she would feel disappointed, but she could talk with them about wanting their support for her new story. She had a conversation with them and while it didn’t go as well as she might have hoped, her mother gave her an unexpected level of verbal encouragement and her father reluctantly gave his blessing. Her fear dissipated, and she moved forward into her new story, one she wrote consciously.

By exploring our fears, we can discover what actions to take to overcome them. If you are feeling stuck, procrastinating, or somehow self-sabotaging as you try to make changes in your life, journal about what might happen if you were to achieve your goal—and what might happen if you didn’t.

Check in with your unconscious to see what wisdom it can offer you. Close your eyes, meditate, and pose the question, “What is it that I am so afraid of?”

However long it takes for an answer to arrive, ask and ask again until an insight comes into your awareness. Consciously facing any hidden fears you hold might get you unstuck much more easily than you would expect.

If you’re feeling stuck, you’ll find expanded-awareness practices for learning from the wisdom of your unconscious in my books Change Your Story, Change Your Life and Change the Story of Your Health.

A version of this article appeared in The Edge magazine.